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Star Anise – Stellar Swine-Flu Fighter

Many people do not know that when they are given the drug, Tamiflu (oseltamivir) for swine flu, bird flu or seasonal flu they are taking a product derived from the spice, very tasty, decorative, star anise .

Star anise (Illicium verum) is a universally used spice grown primarily in China, India and the Philippines. It is included in a wide range of ethnic dishes and is part of five spice powders and Indian Chinese culinary cuisine garam masala. It has the same taste as ordinary anise and is often used instead of that spice. However it is the star-shaped pericarps (seed-pods), rather than the seeds themselves, that give it flavor and provide the shikimic acid – the chemical compound used in the production of Tamiflu.

Shikimic acid

Shikimic acid itself has no known antiviral activity. However it has a distinctive chemical structure that is used as a starting point for a complex multilingual process that ends with the production of Tamiflu.


Oseltamivir is known as a neuraminidase inhibitor that does not directly kill swine flu or other influenza viruses. Instead it prevents the internal spread of these viruses by blocking a protein that facilitates the escape of replicated viral particles from body cells. Although some types of viruses have developed resistance to this drug it is still very effective in most cases – especially if taken early in the infection process.

Global Scarcity?

The growing swine flu pandemic has led to a global shortage of star anise. However, this is likely to be a temporary problem, as shikimic acid can now be produced by fermentation of specific E. coli bacteria. Another less important plant source of shikimic acid is the fruit of the liquidambar (sweetgum) tree. However the sweetgum fruits do not have a very high concentration of this compound. Other spices that contain shikimic acid, but are not used as commercial sources for the compound, are ginger and fennel.

Other health benefits of star anise

Although shikimic acid has no direct antiviral effects, it contains a compound called star anise linalool in fact it has anti-virus activity. Like all spices, star also has strong antioxidant activity. In particular it protects against fatty acid oxidation and thus helps to keep the deposition of cholesterol deposits in the arterial walls. Limonene is another important phytonutrient found in star anise that shows strong antidepressant activity.

Star rescuer

In star anise we have another spice which, in addition to enhancing our gustatory experience, contributes greatly to the retention of one more life-threatening disease.

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